The Adamson House at Christmastide

Photo by Suzanne Guldimann

Every year, docents at the historic Adamson House and Malibu Lagoon Museum decorate the 1929 Spanish Colonial revival home and open its doors for special holiday-themed evening tours. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy the historic house’s unique ambiance after hours, and a tradition for local history enthusiasts. 

The house was designed by renowned Los Angeles architect Stiles Clements for Rhoda Rindge and her husband, Merritt Huntley Adamson. Rhoda was the only daughter of Frederick Hastings Rindge and May Knight Rindge, the last sole owners of the 13,000-acre Topanga Malibu Sequit Rancho.

Frederick Rindge loved the Christmas season. He wrote an account of the holiday at the original Malibu ranch house in his 1898 book Happy Days in Southern California:

It is Christmastide. The bearberry, our substitute for English holly, has been gathered in the hills, and the mantel is prettily trimmed, while a wreath of it hangs over the door. There are hurried footsteps in the morning, each hastening to be the first to bid ‘Merry Christmas’ to others. There are interchanges of kind words and gifts, if the Christmas Eve tree has not done its duty the night before. There is the family worship and the singing of old ‘Antioch’ and ‘Hanover,’ those two old Christmas hymns so full of glory. Then there is the great Christmastide fire, in the broad and deep fireplace; a real Christmas fire, crackling and roaring in gladness…Ah, Merry Christmas Day! Would that thy joy might be known the world around…

Frederick Rindge died in 1905, leaving May Rindge to manage the ranch. She founded Malibu Potteries in 1926. The art tile factory employed 125 craftspeople, including famed designer Rufus Keeler, who developed the brilliant palette of colors used in the tiles, inspired by Moorish and Spanish tile design. For six years during the height of the arts and crafts revival, the factory next to the Malibu Pier produced tiles that can still be found in historic buildings all over Los Angeles, including Los Angeles City Hall and Union Station. However, the most extensive surviving collection of the tiles remains at the Adamson House, just a few hundred yards from where the tiles were produced.

When Rhoda Rindge married ranch foreman Merritt Huntley Adamson, May Rindge gave them the point of land next to the Malibu Lagoon to build a beach house. The Adamson House was completed in 1930. It is decorated throughout with Malibu Potteries’ tile. Peacocks adorn fountains and wall panels, an entire Persian carpet made of tile covers the floor in one room, a Green Man spouts water from his lips in the garden, flowers, birds and mythical creatures appear in profusion on floors and walls, inside and out. The house is also filled with Arts-and-Crafts era wrought iron, leaded glass and hand-painted woodwork. 

Malibu Potteries didn’t survive the Depression. The factory burned in 1931, and was never rebuilt, but the Adamson House preserves its colorful legacy. Rhoda Adamson lived in the house until her death in 1962. Activists battled to save the property from demolition for nearly two decades. Today, the house and 13 acres of garden are owned and operated by California State Parks. The site is one of only three Malibu locations on the National Registry of Historic Places, and is a designated California Historical Landmark.

Docent-led house tours are available year-round, and the grounds are open daily, but the holiday tours offer an especially evocative and festive experience.

Special holiday tours are available by reservation Thursday through Sunday, from 3:15 – 7:15 p.m. Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for children 6-16. Every participant will receive a small, handcrafted Malibu Potteries-style art tile as a special gift, and hot mulled cider and cookies are served at the conclusion of the 40-minute tour.

For more information or to make a reservation, visit: http://www.adamsonhouse.org.

Suzanne Guldimann
Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at suzanne@messengermountainnews.com

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